“At some point in a woman’s life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time. After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is.” –Vivian Morris, protagonist of City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
Hello again! My jaunt away from blogging was temporary, I’m back, and I have a really good excuse that involves neither dogs nor homework nor hordes of bees for my absence: I spent two weeks in Aruba to celebrate my birthday. You’ll shed me no tears. I understand.
With the glaring exception of the airport – an unmitigated clusterfuck of a design defect if there ever was one – Aruba really does live up to its happy island hype. It’s more beautiful than I imagined, and one of the more serene spots on this planet. Even if you didn’t have a few qualms about turning the big 4-0, as I did a week ago, you could never ask for a more perfect place to turn one day older.
Yep, I had my fortieth birthday. I’d been considering just turning 39 again, but when the day arrived I took a deep breath, put on my big girl panties, and ripped off the band-aid. It seems everything is fine. If turning 40 sucks, I haven’t yet experienced it. Also, it’s only been ten days.
In all seriousness, I had felt a creeping unease about this birthday, despite my best intentions otherwise. I was raised in the most shame-based of all the shame-based organized religions, and as much work as I’ve done to throw the shackles, they do occasionally try to find me again. My childhood religion taught me that women exist to perform two functions: please men, and make babies. As you can imagine, women aging in that world is dreaded and fraught. Add in that my uterus is as yet unused, and may stay unused, and you can see what an enormous disappointment I am to certain people.
But here I am. In the few days leading up to my birthday, I breezed through Elizabeth Gilbert’s newest novel, City of Girls. Gilbert stated she wanted her novel to “go down like a champagne cocktail – light and bright, crisp and fun.” I’m sure it did for some folks, but for whatever reason I got emotionally attached enough to the protagonist that I read the ending – which I will not spoil – fighting off literal tears. I know the novel got “mixed reviews”; I am no literary critic, so what do I know. Personally though, I loved that book.
Vivian Morris, the novel’s protagonist, does something quite regrettable in her twenties and manages to forgive herself even if others cannot. I haven’t personally engaged in the same behavior as Vivian, but trust me when I say I’m no saint. I could completely identify with her journey in learning to disregard and untether the shame.
I suppose if you’re looking to experience an internal pivot in your life, turning 40 is a good enough excuse as any to make it happen. Shame is a powerful tool of the patriarchy, and that’s just in the secular, mainstream world. Throw in a controlling, misogynistic religion comprised of utterly pointless rules, and you’ve taken this game to unimaginable depths of hell, pun intended.
I wish I could say shame and I haven’t ever been acquainted, but we’ve always been entangled and enmeshed. We were introduced early, before I have conscious memory, but at some point you just have to declare that it has long overstayed its welcome. Or more accurately, that it never should have been there in the first place. It always feels like the people who should feel shame never do, and vice versa. I used this serene, do-nothing vacation on a breathtaking tropical island to unplug and examine everything in my brain that hasn’t been working. (I guess it’s somewhat ironic that I read a Liz Gilbert novel during this time, because it was almost like my own little miniature Eat, Pray, Love escapade. Except I never prayed, ate a lot of Doritos and cheap beer, and… well, the love part was pretty excellent! (Mr. Wallace is really hot.))
I’ll spare you the navel-gazing treatise that usually accompanies these moments of inner work. If you want to know about middle-aged women breaking through and finally realizing they don’t have to give a flying fuck about what men and old white women think anymore, read Heather Havrilesky. She treats the subject with more depth and eloquence than I ever could. Instead, I’ll buck the critics and implore you, especially women, to pick up and read City of Girls. Beyond an entertaining story, it’s a delightful, compelling celebration of womanhood.
Dinosaur Ranch Dressing
- 1 cup + 6 tbs mayonnaise
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 tbs red wine vinegar
- 2 tsp minced garlic
- ¼ cup freshly snipped chives
- 1 tbs lemon pepper
- ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- Black pepper, to taste
- 1 ½ tsp Creole seasoning
- Whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl until smooth. For best results, let rest in the refrigerator for about a half hour before using. But if you use it right away, it’s still perfectly delicious.